California Republican Nailed By Bloggers

Online sleuths can claim another victory. Howard Kaloogian, a Republican candidate in California's 50th Congressional District, has removed a picture from his campaign Web site that he claimed was evidence that journalists are distorting how bad conditions are in Iraq. The photo purported to show a placid street scene in downtown Baghdad, including a hand-holding couple in Western dress and shoppers out for a stroll on a cobblestone street in an unmarred business district.

As it turns out, the photo is a genuine street scene—from Istanbul, Turkey.

"I'm sorry, we'll correct it," Kaloogian told NEWSWEEK after being contacted about the picture. "It appears like this is one of the photos from Istanbul." Kaloogian said that some members of a group that traveled to Iraq with him in July 2005 had a brief layover in Turkey's largest city. "We turned over literally hundreds of photos to our Webmaster, and apparently he chose one from the Istanbul layover." ( Click here to view a PDF of the site , then scroll down to see view the Istanbul-as-Iraq photo.)

Kaloogian, a candidate to replace the vacated seat of disgraced former congressman Randall (Duke) Cunningham, traveled to Iraq on what his Web site calls the "'Voices of Soldiers' Truth Tour." The photo in question had the following caption, "We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it—in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."

The photo had been on the site for several months without drawing scrutiny, but on Mar. 28 bloggers on Daily Kos and other sites questioned its authenticity, noting the Roman script of several street signs ("Noter" is apparently Turkish for "notary," and "Edo" is a Turkish brand of ice cream) as well as the "spaghetti-strap sleeves" and exposed shoulders of the woman holding hands with her male companion. "Am I crazy, or is this [photo] not of Baghdad at all?" wrote a poster on Daily Kos.

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Click here to view a PDF of the site, then scroll down to see view the Istanbul-as-Iraq photo.

The question set loose a legion of online sleuths, who set about translating the street signs, comparing the colors of Iraqi and Turkish taxis and finding photographs from other sources depicting the same intersection in Istanbul. As they gathered evidence, the topic began pinging around the blogosphere. By midday, it was a front-page item on the Huffington Post Web site.

Kaloogian is no stranger to controversy. He was one of the architects of the successful recall drive against former California governor Gray Davis. But he seemed annoyed at the sudden onslaught of attention. "Journalists weren't interested in our trip for nine months afterwards, and now they're trying to find one picayunish mistake [on my Web site]," he complained to NEWSWEEK. "It's one itty-bitty picture. The Associated Press gave us a Mark Twain Award for a broadcast we did from Iraq, and nothing was written about that at all." (Kaloogian is not named on the Web site of the Associated Press Television and Radio Association of California-Nevada as a Mark Twain Award winner, although several radio talk-show hosts who accompanied Kaloogian on the Iraq trip are named. "We invited these talk-show hosts to go with us, it was our trip, but they were on it," Kaloogian told NEWSWEEK.)

By Wednesday, Kaloogian had replaced the photo from his campaign Web site, which was inaccessible due to heavy traffic Wednesday afternoon. The new photo is an aerial view of Baghdad—or at least, Kaloogian says it is.